I am of the opinion that nothing spells comfort better than a slice of homemade bread fresh out of the oven. I’m also of the opinion that bread tastes best when it’s baked in an outdoor oven or in a wood cook stove.
And, since I’m giving my opinion, let me just tell you this: I also think that, when it comes to baking bread in an outdoor oven, the actual recipe isn’t as important as the fact that it’s baked in that wood-fired oven.
Since I have neither in my house, I use my convection oven – which also happens to bake some awesome bread.
If you’ve been on my blog before, you might know that I grew up helping bake homemade bread in our mother’s bakery. And for the past dozen years or so, I’ve helped bake bread in an outdoor oven, an annual autumn family tradition. You can read about that venture here.
It helps that I own a Bosch (thank you, Dave!) and that makes mixing up bread a snap. I usually double or triple a recipe. After the loaves are cool, Dave slices them and we put them into freezer bags. That’s a trick I learned from my mother, who used to tell her customers to do that when they were afraid of buying her two-pound loaves. “You can just take a few slices out of the freezer at a time,” she’d say.
The reason Dave slices the loaves instead of me is because he gets the slices straight – and I don’t. I like the loaves sliced thin so I can eat two slices on a sandwich and not feel guilty for consuming as many calories. My kids like them thicker because they say it makes better French Toast and Grilled Cheese sandwiches than thin slices. Either way you slice it, it’s just plain good.
I got this recipe years ago (oh, something like twenty-eight years, I think it was). Dave was doing some remodeling at an elderly lady’s house, and she happened to be making homemade bread that day. She sent a loaf home with Dave. It was so moist and good that I called her and asked her for the recipe. Neither Dave or I can remember who this lady was (isn’t that embarrassing?!) but the recipe card says it comes “From the recipe file of Clarice Potter.”
The card is yellowed from years of use, and there are oil splatters in many places. It’s starting to bend and tear and I figure if I go ahead and post it here, I won’t need to worry about not being able to read the card anymore.
You’ll just need the usual ingredients: bread flour, yeast, water, vegetable oil, sugar, and salt.
Before you get started, here are a few pointers:
- make sure your water is not too hot and not too cold. It should be around 110 – for me, that means I can put my finger in the water and hold it for a little bit. If the water is too hot, it will kill the yeast. If it’s too cold, it won’t activate the yeast. Either way, it means the dough won’t rise
- sugar helps activate the yeast. You might want to decrease the sugar; that’s okay, but remember that you need some sugar to help the yeast do its job.
- bread flour makes better bread. You can use regular flour, but it changes the texture of the dough. I have at times had to add regular flour when I ran out of bread flour in the middle of mixing a batch.
- While the dough is rising (in the bowl and in the bread pans) keep it away from drafts. That means either turn your fans off or throw a towel across the dough – or move the dough to another place where it won’t get that draft.
- I made the mistake of doing a thirty-minute exercise video in the next room once when my loaves were rising. I came out to find that the loaves had “flopped.” Learn from me and don’t try that!
- 1 quart warm water (4 cups)
- ⅓ cup sugar
- 1 Tablespoon yeast (I usually add more yeast)
- 1 Tablespoon salt
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 3 cups flour to start, then enough to make the dough not sticky (7+) as needed
- Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water. (You can do this in 1 cup and then add the rest of the warm water to the batch)
- To the yeast mixture, add salt, vegetable oil and 3 cups flour
- Add more flour, ½-1 cup at a time until the dough no longer clings to the side of the bowl.
- Put dough onto counter and knead until it is smooth and elastic.
- Place in greased bowl, turning once to coat the entire dough mixture
- Let dough rise until it is double, then punch down
- Let the dough rise again, and then punch it down again
- Grease bread pans and shape dough into loaves.
- Put melted margarine or vegetable oil on top of loaves
- Prick each loaf in several places.
- Let rise until double
- Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until done.